When presented with the catastrophic failures of the VA system and the disgraceful way some of our veterans were being treated, both sides of the aisle came together and acted with commendable urgency. Yet our political leaders have not managed similar action to fix our broken immigration system, even when faced with American children who wonder every day whether their parents will return home after work.
In March the president directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to find ways to make the enforcement of immigration law "more humane." In late May, the president apparently changed his mind and delayed the deportation review. The result will be devastating, not only for the almost 25,000 parents who will be heartlessly ripped from their children over the course of the summer according to one congressional office's estimates, but for the president's legacy as well.
That crisis is sharpened by the arrival of an increasing number of children fleeing violence in Central America, and by the concerns raised by the ACLU and other groups about the abusive treatment and inhumane conditions too many of these children experience when they reach the U.S. and are placed in Border Patrol custody. That's not just a tragedy. It's a humanitarian crisis.
President Obama should honor his commitment to root out the inhumanity in our immigration enforcement regime. He doesn't need to wait on Congress, nor should he. Every day the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) arrests, detains, and deports people in violation of their constitutional and human rights. Such things cannot be ignored for the sake of politics.
Rather than letting these abuses go on another day, DHS should immediately institute the following five reforms, which are well within the executive's legal authority:
First, DHS needs to reconsider which immigrants it targets for removal. Its overbroad enforcement priorities have created a dragnet across the nation that harms communities and callously tears apart American children from their parents.
The administration should let local law enforcement officials focus on keeping our communities safe, and stop making them part of the deportation machine. DHS should end the failed 287(g) and Secure Communities programs, and their abuse of ICE detainers, which promote racial profiling, undermine community cooperation with local police, and facilitate unlawful detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
DHS also needs to restore due process (and sanity) to the enforcement system. To start, the agency can prevent the unconstitutional and costly detention of immigrants by requiring a custody hearing before an immigration judge for everyone detained more than six months--as is already required in some regions. DHS should stop deporting individuals who never have the opportunity to see an immigration judge--a category that constituted over 70 percent of all removals in fiscal year 2013. And at minimum, DHS should provide court hearings for people who have strong U.S. ties or potential claims for legal status under current law.